By ABC News

Australian researchers say that a preventative treatment for equine laminitis could be within reach.

The research triggered a joint multi-million-dollar project by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of Queensland, Melbourne University and Charles Sturt University in New South Wales.

QUT science director Professor Martin Sillence heads the team that has proven that in most cases, high insulin levels are to blame for laminitis.

He says in horses prone to laminitis, sweet feed was shown to trigger toxic levels of the hormone.

“The most common form of laminitis that affects ponies and horses that are on rich pasture, is certainly down to excess levels of insulin in the blood — it’s like human diabetes,” he says.

Genetic predisposition, over-feeding and a lack of exercise also played a part, Sillence says.

“The difference is the horses’ pancreas never fails and pumps out massive amounts of insulin until it causes this devastating result, which is when the hooves start to come apart from the legs,” he says.

100 Ponies Used In Research Project

Sillence says researchers had been looking at different strategies to combat the condition.

“To get insulin levels down in horses, to identify horses at risk of getting the disease, to develop diagnostic tests, and also to develop novel ways to treat it,” he says.

The researchers recruited 100 ponies, because there was no certain way to predict which ones were prone to the disease when the project started.

The study also showed it was not possible to predict the potential to founder by the horse’s body type.

The 2-year trials returned positive results in a range of areas, including methods of predicting disease risk and a reliable diagnostic test.

Sillence says some of the results were surprising.

“In the past we’ve diagnosed based on giving intravenous injections of glucose or insulin — that’s what they do in humans as well — to see if they’re diabetic,” he says.

“But we found in ponies, because the problem starts in the intestinal system, you can give it the usual human diagnostic test and the pony will come up negative.

“But when you give it sugar or a sweet feed, their insulin levels go through the roof, so it’s a new way of testing to be sure if the pony is at risk or not at risk.”

The ponies found to be prone to laminitis were then part of a clinical trial using human diabetes medication, Sillence says.

“The drug company work looks really promising,” he says. “It looks like we might be close to a preventative treatment.”

QUT veterinarian Dr. Alexandra Meiers says that work was vital.

“This has the potential,” she says, “to revolutionize laminitis in ponies.”

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